Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Style Wars (1983)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

When I was a kid, I remember associating New York City trains with graffiti. That seemed to be one of the images presented on TV and in media, fairly or unfairly. Then again, it was just paint to me back then. I thought people were just taking spray paint and putting up random images on the trains. Not only has New York City has cleaned up their image since then, but I have come to learn that the images are more than random.

Style Wars goes into what the images mean and shows who’s making them. Those doing it, who sometimes call themselves bombers, want to get their name out among others that are doing it. If you get your name on enough trains, you can be seen all over New York City. There are detractors. Those interviewed called it a quality-of-life issue, comparing it to prostitution or picking someone’s pocket. Many people didn’t like it. There’s also a pretty heavy price tag associated with getting rid of the paint.

New York City eventually cracked down on it, which is probably why I don’t associate graffiti with the trains any more. The documentary showed this campaign that the city had involving celebrities. There is a certain reverence paid to the graffiti artists, though. The crackdown is shown in a somewhat negative light, almost like the end of an era. The graffiti artists had to move on to other means of expression.

The movie didn’t so much put graffiti in a positive light, though. It was mostly showing who did this and maybe even why. There was one kid talking about it in front of his mother, who just didn’t get it. There was another guy who had only one arm, yet managed to do graffiti anyway. Despite complaining from the public and the best efforts of the transit authority and Mayor Ed Koch, people still found a way in to mark the trains. Everyone that did it had some way in.

There was one kid that was saying how he could get away with $50 or $100 in spray paint. Once he had a trench coat, all he had to do was wait for a couple of black or Hispanic kids to come in and he could stuff the trench coat was the limit. There was another kid trying to explain why he did it with his mother in the background. She kept rolling her eyes whenever he would say something like how he would never get caught.

The documentary focused mostly on the graffiti, but showed other aspects of life that went along with it, saying at one point that rap was the spoken word and graffiti was the written word. It seemed like the rap and break dancing were filler, though. It was almost like the producers didn’t have enough graffiti to go around and needed something a little more.

The movie really wasn’t as interesting as I thought it would be. Even at 70 minutes, it seemed long at times. Part of it was that the film quality wasn’t that good. (That has to do not only with the movie being 25 years old, but also with the producers using smaller, more portable video cameras which have lower quality.) When I was done with it, I ended up returning it to NetFlix pretty quickly. (I’m beginning to think I should have watched some of the extras.)

I read that there was a follow-up documentary done recently, but I don’t know if I’m going to watch that. This was more of a three-star movie. If I have the time and I’m running out of movies on my NetFlix queue, I may get it. As for this movie, I think I’d recommend the same thing to you. Don’t waste a lot of time getting it, but if it comes on while you’re watching PBS or something, go for it. 

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